DECLINE OF THE MAURYANS

EXAMINE THE VARIOUS THEORIES REGARDING THE DECLINE OF THE MAURYAN EMPIRE
India came to enjoy a proud position and became the nucleus of diffusion of its civilization in the world under the Mauryas. Mauryan rule was the first experiment in imperial government in India. Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara and Asoka were successful in establishing the imperial authority of the Mauryas over a large number of Janapadas or Kingdoms, and they were able to introduce a new concept in the governance of a large territory. However, the imperial authority of the Mauryas began to weaken with the death of Asoka (232 B.C.) and finally collapsed in 180 B.C. In those early times with the primitive mode of transport and communication, to hold together different and diverse social, political, and cultural groups in a country as vast as India for even a century and a half was virtually a task of political geniuses and not dreamers as the Mauryan kings have sometimes been accused. The Mauryan rulers continued to rule for about half a century after the death of Ashoka in 231 B.C. Several literary texts like the Puranas, the Avdanas, and the Jain accounts give different details of Ashoka’s successors. The difference in all these accounts may be due to the fact that after the death of Ashoka the empire was divided among the surviving sons. Some of the names of Ashoka’s successors that we find in different texts are Kunala, Dasharatha, Samprati, Salishuka, Devavarman, Satadhanvan, and Brihadratha. After Ashoka died, the empire got fragmented and that there was quick succession of rulers. Ashoka has been sometimes held responsible for the downfall of the empire. The end of the dynasty at the coup of Pushyamitra Shunga was considered Brahmanical revolt against the pro - Buddhist policy of Ashoka. But there is no support for this contention. Ashoka never allowed his personal religion to come into conflict with his state religion (Dharma). A king who never felt tired of teaching his subjects the virtues of religious toleration, and who encouraged the different religious demonstrations all over his empire could not be blamed of religious intolerance. As aptly observed by one critic “his general policy was neither specifically pro- Buddhist nor anti-Brahman. It was open to acceptance or rejection by all or any.” Moreover, the Brahmanical dynasty founded by Pushyamitra Shunga, the annihilator of the Mauryans, was itself overthrown by another Brahmanical dynasty of the Kanvas. Thus political and not religious causes were at the root of this change in dynasty accentuated no doubt by the vastness of the country. Ashoka by preaching his Dharma had unwittingly deprived monarchy of its traditional strength based on the claims of divinity. This irresistibly led to one inevitable outcome. “Gradually Dharma replaced the idea of a state. Even a divine was no longer infallible, because an unrighteous king could be removed.” (Romila Thapar) The economic cause also precipitated the downfall and disintegration of the Mauryan Empire. D. D. Kosambi believes that financial constraints on the Mauryan economy contributed to the

decline of the Mauryan Empire. The state took excessive measures to increase the taxes on a variety of things, and that the punch marked coins of this period show evidence of debasement of the currency. The cumbersome and expensive Mauryan bureaucracy despite its excellent record of efficiency under Chandragupta and Ashoka, tended to be lax, indifferent and parasitic. The cost of administration increased phenomenally. But the resources remained almost static. The debasement of currency resorted to in the latter part of the Mauryan rule was indicative of the new trend towards economic stagnation. Growing weakness of the economy had its inevitable impact on administrative efficiency and his coupled with the weakness of the rulers who succeeded Ashoka unavoidably led to the early dissolution of the once powerful Mauryan Empire.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India – Upinder Singh Ancient India – Vijay Kachroo India’s Ancient Past – R. S. Sharma Ashoka and the decline of the Mauryas – Romila Thapar Mauryan India – Irfan Habib Ashoka’s Dhamma: A Symbol of Abdication and Endurance – Dr. Ranjeet Kedarta

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